EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Free movement and social security


Article 48 TFEU states that ‘the European Parliament and the Council shall, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, adopt such measures in the field of social security as are necessary to provide freedom of movement for workers.’ Council Regulation 1612/68 of 15 October 1968 on freedom of movement for workers within the Community aims to ensure that the application of different national social security systems does not adversely affect EU nationals exercising their right to free movement. In December 1998, the Commission has submitted a proposal to simplify and modernise the provisions of Regulation 1612/68, which led, for instance, in 2003 to the decision to introduce a European health insurance card.


Coordination of social security systems has been provided for in Council Regulation 1408/71 of 14 June 1971 on the application of social security schemes to employed persons, to self-employed persons and to members of their families moving within the Community (as amended by Council Regulation 574/72, consolidated in an annex to Regulation 118/97, amended in Regulation 1386/2001). This guarantees employed workers, self-employed workers and students the same entitlements to social security provision as nationals of the host Member State. However, only provisions under statutory social protection schemes are guaranteed. These include legislation relating to sickness and maternity benefits, invalidity benefits, old age benefits, survivor’s benefits, family benefits and death grants. In general, the worker is subject to the legislation of only one Member State. Council Regulation 859/2003 of 14 May 2003 extended these provisions also to third-country nationals who are not already covered by them solely on the grounds of their nationality.

Workers choosing to move to another Member State maintain acquired rights in all Member States and the right to combine periods of social contributions and periods of pension contributions for the purpose of obtaining social benefits. Amendments introduced in 1996 guarantee unemployed persons the possibility, subject to certain conditions, to move to another Member State while continuing to receive unemployment benefit. However, Member States are concerned about the national specificity of their social security systems and the financial implications of changes. The Commission Communication of 11 December 2002 on ‘Free movement of workers – achieving the full benefits and potential’ confirms that Member States are only required to coordinate and not harmonise their social security systems.

See also: free movement of citizens; free movement of workers; frontier workers; mobility of workers; portability of social security rights; portability of supplementary pensions; self-employed person; social protection; third-country nationals.


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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